| Outside Chance |

Outside Chance: Chapter 13 

“I’m going to skip my introduction. If you paid for this course, you know what you’re getting”

 


"The conference room was busy. I looked around, no overtly Jewish faces. There was a water cooler in the corner with mint candies on top. Guess those are key in public speaking. I grabbed a cup and waited for the woman ahead of me to finish. She looked up, I gave a closed-mouth smile.

“Hi,” I said as she stepped back. “I’m Chana.”

“Lana.” She offered me her hand. I was surprised at her grip, she meant this.

“Your sheitel is so natural.”

I nearly spit out my water. Never been bageled before. And she’s lying, my sheitel looks like a bird’s nest.

“Thanks.”

“What’s your line of work?”

Line of work? Like I have a real job. Funny.

“Shul rebbetzin — wife of the rabbi.”

Lana hit my upper arm with the back of her hand. “Got you on your first try.” She winked.

“You?” I asked.

“Strategic media marketer.”

“Cool, no idea what that is.”

Lana laughed. “I tell companies how to get you to buy more of their stuff.”

My kind of honest.

There was another woman behind Lana.

“Hi, I’m Chana,” I greeted her. Her posture was closed, but her shoulders relaxed as I smiled.

“Deirdre, pleasure.” Curt works.

I stepped aside and she reached for water. There was another person, a man, now coming toward the water cooler. I cupped my water with both hands out of handshake fears, smiled, and nodded politely as he approached.

“Oh, he’s here.” Lana stood straighter.

The rest of the room had gone silent. I looked to the door. A tall man, with slicked-back thinning hair and too-snug clothing had entered. I kinda recognized him thanks to Yehudis’s book. Cliff Grantes.

“Hello, and welcome to my Public Speaking Master Class.” Cliff held his arms out like he was offering hugs. “Please everyone, find a seat so we can get started. We have so much to cover, and I can’t wait.”

His enthusiasm sounded genuine but also modulated, like he had figured out the perfect pitch to sound authoritative and authentic. I took a seat in the back. Let the people who actually chose to be here get the good seats. Lana sat down next to me.

“I’m going to skip my introduction. If you paid for this course, you know what you’re getting.”

How much did Yehudis pay for this course? Does this mean I have to take it seriously?

 

“So we’ll get straight to you. We’re going to go around, and everyone will say their name, position, why they’re here, and what they’re hope to gain. We’ll start with you.” He pointed at me.

Wait, what were we supposed to say about ourselves? I waved around the room. There weren’t that many people, 15 tops.

“Hi, I’m Chana Schwartzberg, my husband’s a rabbi, and the women have co-opted me as their lecturer against my will.”

Lana chuckled, Cliff frowned. Did I sound too flippant?

Cliff gestured to Lana, who stood up. “Hi, I’m Lana Ullman, I’m a senior strategic media marketer with Axperos and Stars, I’d like to next-level my public speaking game so I’ll be more comfortable when I present at industry conferences.”

Oh. Yeah, I’m not polished like that, I don’t have a job or goals like that. Whoops.

The introductions went on. Everyone sounded like Lana, big titles, big goals, super polished. Why’d they need this class?

“I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore,” I whispered to Lana. She smiled and laughed, but didn’t respond, she was listening. Everyone finished introducing themselves. Cliff clapped his hands together.

“Wonderful to meet everyone! Let’s get right to it.” Cliff started going on about givers and receivers and everyone being an audience. Blah blah blah. I found an old receipt and a pen in my bag and started on my shopping list. When I lifted my hand, thinking, my paper fluttered away.

I looked up. I was sitting under a duct and the air propelled the paper all the way to Cliff’s feet. I walked to retrieve it. Cliff reached for it, glanced at my list, and returned it to me, his arm extended fully, making the distance between us clear. I took it and scurried back to my seat.

I finished my list and menu, holding tight to my papers. After a while, I heard Cliff saying, “I end every class by asking a member of the class to deliver a two-minute impromptu speech on any topic. I choose at random, so always be prepared. Remember, you never know when the need to speak publicly may arise.”

Oh, this really was high school all over again. I looked down at my pocketbook, I was ready to leave as soon as he dismissed us.

“How about Hannah?” Cliff’s hand was in my direction, palm open as if this were a friendly invitation. I looked at his face. His eyes were cold. Oh, Chana, you really did wrong here.

“Sure!” I tried sounding bright. Impromptu, that’s like schmoozing. I can do this.

“One of my favorite writers is Mo Willems,” I paused for recognition and suspense. “He writes and illustrates picture books, with pigeons and elephants and pigs.” The room chuckled. “People talk about literature and its power to change people. I think, if you want to change the world, be a children’s book writer. If you want to change, skip the self-help books, read kids’ books.”

Then I shared my experience reading “Ish” and our follow-up discussion.

“…These women debated with the importance they’d give to choosing a baby name — serious stuff. I’m not brilliant, I didn’t tell the story. But I shared it, and it was a beautiful moment in my life.”

I finished. The room was still quiet, then came smiles and scattered claps. Phew.

“Very nice,” Cliff clipped. “Hannah did a wonderful job engaging the audience using the power of a story. Her presentation, though, was a little too conversational, almost like she was waiting for you to interrupt her and take the baton. We need to work on that.”

Nods all around, then people started clearing out. I smiled at passing people, a bigger smile for Lana. When the room was empty of everyone but me and Cliff, I approached him.

“I’m sorry—” I started. He looked me in the eye and waited for me to continue. “I know I didn’t give your class the respect it deserves. I’ll do better next time.”

“Hannah, people are here to learn, and I’m here to teach. Whatever your issues are, please leave them at the door so everyone can learn without distraction.” He looked away and gathered his stuff. I was dismissed and unforgiven. I felt lousy.

 

Back in my car I saw I’d missed a call during this joyous class. The person had left a message. Impressive, I never do.

“Hi, this message is for Rebbetzin Schwartzberg. This is Rebbetzin Sarah Landsman calling, my husband is the rav of Ohr Lev. I’ve been hearing wonderful things about your shiurim and I was hoping you’d agree to be on an Aseres Yemei Teshuvah Panel a few neighborhood shuls are collaborating on. Call me back when you get a chance. Kol tuv.”

Oh. Wow. Take that, conversational Cliff.

People are talking about me. Somehow I thought this was a private bubble thing where I just read books and we schmooze and that’s it.

“Listen to this!” I pronounced as soon as I got home. No one was around. I walked into Avrumi’s study and repeated myself. He looked up from his sefer with the face of a mildly amused parent.

I pressed speaker and played the message. Avrumi’s smile grew and he leaned back in his chair, his head tipped skyward. When the message finished, he abruptly shifted forward and met my eyes.

“You’re a real rebbetzin, Chana.”

He was so proud. Of me. Being a rebbetzin. He was so proud. And I’ve never felt more eager to please.

“You think I should do it?” I phrased it as a question, but who was I kidding.

“What’s the sh’eilah? Of course! You’ll be amazing.”

We beamed at each other like a shanah rishonah couple.

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 700)

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